China’s state media has announced a $4.8bn tourism project to be centred on Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city.
The massive investment, which is intended to draw more visitors to the region, will include a theme park, a commercial district and a residential area, according to quotes attributed to Lhasa vice-mayor, Ma Xinming, by the official Xinhua news agency.
According to Xinhua, Ma said the project would create a ‘living museum’ for Tibetan culture as well as relieving pressure on tourist attractions in Lhasa’s old city and developing Tibet’s tourism industry.
The first phase of the project, a mile or so from downtown Lhasa, will reportedly take three to five years to complete.
The planned theme park is to be based on princess Wencheng, a Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) royal who married a Tibetan ruler. It is thought that the Chinese authorities are using the theme to help emphasise the close historic ties between China and Tibet at a time when dissent over Chinese rule is rife in the country.
Tibetans feel that their religious freedom has been curbed and that Tibetan culture is under threat from a growing influx of Han Chinese. Such is the level of animosity over Chinese rule that on May 27 this year, two Tibetans protested by setting themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang Temple, a major Buddhist pilgrimage centre. State media refuted claims that China closed Tibet to travellers following the incident.
China counters the protestors’ claims, saying that Tibetans do have religious freedom and that living standards have improved in the country, thanks to China’s economic expansion, and that another feature of the new development will be a centre dedicated to Tibetan art and customs.
According to official figures, tourism to Tibet was up by 24 percent in 2011, from the previous year, with a total of 8.5 million visitors. The regional government’s target for this year is 10 million visitors.